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Common thread unites runners
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Over 2,500 runners and walkers beat the sun up over the weekend to participate in the 18th annual Sherry’s Run 5K Run/Walk, and it seemed like everyone had something in common — they were running to honor a friend or family member.

Adorned with custom T-shirts signifying who they were participating as tribute to, runners rocked team names like “Al’s Army,” “Miles for Martha,” and “Gabby’s Gang,” across their chests.

The winner, Nathan Mangrum, completed his 5K in just over 16 minutes. After the race, the runner from Freed-Hardeman University and Lebanon local said, “I grew up going to Sherry’s Run.”

He was running for one of the title honorees of this year’s event, Cathy Carey, who went to church with Mangrum at the Maple Hills Church of Christ. Mangrum was quite excited as this was his first time winning.

The greatest success from the weekend was the amount of money raised now available to go to the nonprofit’s mission of assisting those going through treatment and recovery. According to Katie Henson, marketing director at Sherry’s Hope, the event raised over $300,000.

An upbeat and funky rock band, the Blues Brokers, set the stage for the event which kicked off from the Mitchell House lawn in Lebanon. Prior to the race’s start, a moment of silence was held for the victims of cancer who had been lost.

Many runners and walkers dedicated their participation to a loved one. Kesia Ashworth-Lawrence’s cousin, Al Ashworth, was one of the names this year’s event was commemorating. Ashworth-Lawrence said, “I came out today because Sherry’s Run was something that Al really took time to help.”

Championing Al’s legacy along with Ashworth-Lawrence were “friends, family and co-workers, really a little bit of everything in Al’s Army,” his cousin quipped.

One participant, Wanda Schoen, was representing the group called “Miles for Martha.” According to Schoen, Martha was a coworker at Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital and passed away in the last year.

“She was a great person. Fun loving, outgoing and always kept us laughing,” Schoen said.

Schoen is an administrative assistant at the hospital, but many of the people who were running in her group were fellow nurses who knew Martha well from work and wanted to honor her memory in the 5K.

Not everyone was running for a specific person, but rather the cause at large. Ryan Wolfenbarger, executive pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Tuckers Crossroads, was warming up with his “Crossroad Crusaders.”

“This is our run club. We get together throughout the week to run and spend time together in fellowship,” the pastor said.

Wolfenbarger added that this was his fourth or fifth time competing in the event. Of the crowd in attendance Saturday, he said, “It’s a great crowd, back to how it was before COVID. It’s very exciting.”

Other participants like Robert McGuire of Watertown, were walking in celebration of personal victory. He turned 50 years old this year and a physical revealed prostate cancer in April. The surgery to have it removed was in June, and he said Saturday that so far everything was going good.

His group, the Watertown Warriors was made up of his mom, his wife, daughter and some friends. They all worship together at the Watertown Church of Christ.

Some came out to support coworkers who had family members suffer from cancer. Marquis and Sydney Shipley were representing Gabby’s Gang, another of the 2021 honorees. Sydney Shipley works at Rochelle, McCulloch & Aulds in Lebanon. Jody Aulds is one of the partners at the firm and Gabby was her daughter. For Sydney Shipley this was a way of showing support for a friend and colleague.

While it was the first time participating in the event, Marquis Shipley said that his father also had cancer and that in a way he felt like he was walking for him too on Saturday.

These kinds of events rely on the help of volunteers, especially since Sherry’s Hope, the nonprofit, only has three paid employees. Some of those volunteers were Drew East, Marcus White and Corey Jones, three members of the Lebanon High School basketball team.

On Saturday, they were helping direct traffic and parking. Each acknowledged that they were happy to be able to be a part of an event with so much impact around the community. East even shared a story of his grandfather, who passed away from cancer while East’s father was still in high school, so for him, this battle against cancer is personal.

Answer to prayers

Two local families took their first steps toward becoming homeowners this weekend as Wilson Habitat for Humanity began work on its next two houses on Western Avenue in Lebanon.

Misty Pucciarelli said, “It hit me this morning. That these houses were for me and Starr.”

By “Starr,” Pucciarelli is referring to LaStarr Engram, the recipient for the other townhome unit on the property. “It’s great that we already know each other,” she said.

They became good friends through the program that preps them for homeownership, and both said they are looking forward to being neighbors.

Wilson Habitat for Humanity Community Relations Manager Veronica Anderson explained that to receive a home, individuals had to complete courses offered through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Pucciarelli shared what the experience had been like between the courses they were required to take. “I think they are awesome life lessons.”

“We have to go through Dave Ramsey’s classes and homebuilding courses on how to maintain your house. I think it’s awesome being a homeowner and getting that knowledge beforehand.” she said.

Pucciarelli sees it all as an answer to prayers. “After years of working on my credit score, I feel like all my hard work has paid off. Owning a home will help me feel secure, knowing that no one will be able to take it from me and my children will always have a place to call home.”

Additionally, Pucciarelli and Engram are both required to complete 200 “sweat equity,” hours. These hours are fulfilled by helping with the builds like the pair were doing Saturday at the construction site.

“It’s a lot to do. We are helping to build the neighbors’ house. It’s a lot to put your schedule together, but I hit my first nail this morning,” Engram said. “I’m very excited about this.”

Engram knew she would have a hard time buying in a highly competitive market like the one Lebanon is currently experiencing. In her future Habitat home, without the need to move every couple of years, she hopes her children will be able to concentrate on school and build friendships. She’s also looking forward to finally being able to “take care of herself.”

Engram and Pucciarelli already know their surrounding neighbors, too. They said they met them when they were helping to construct another Habitat home, part of the requirement for recipients.

Engram said that when she moved to the area from Michigan 11 years ago what struck her most profoundly was the kindness and thoughtfulness of the people in Middle Tennessee.

However, finding affordable housing had proven to be troublesome, so she and her two teenage children have been living with her parents in Lebanon.

Now that she is going to have her own place, Engram said that she is “overwhelmed and grateful,” to have been chosen as part of Habitat.

Anderson explained how the homeownership program works through Habitat. “They purchase a home at zero-% interest, just like you or I would, but through Habitat.”

The community relations manager said that the program is designed to prepare them for small things they might encounter like fixing dings in drywall or how to repair a toilet.

Anderson pointed to the budget classes and as being integral in setting the new homeowners up for long term success as well.

The 12-week course teaches fundamentals of saving money, but also assigns them a budget coach to help instruct them specifically.

We are working on the Dugan build. They sponsored both of our builds this fall.

In fact the new homeowners are here helping today.

One final class teaches them how to get along with neighbors, a critical component to owning a home as anyone who does will tell you.

Sponsors for this build included The Dugan Family Foundation, a Wilson County government grant, Famous Footwear, Enbridge and the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary Club.

“We are looking forward to all the volunteer groups coming out this fall. We have a great lineup of teams organized to build on these two beautiful townhomes. Our mission is to put God’s love into action to bring people together to build homes, community and hope,” said Anderson.

Study: Reliance on contractors hurt in 9/11 wars

Up to half of the $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon since 9/11 went to for-profit defense contractors, a study released Monday found. While much of this money went to weapons suppliers, the research is the latest to point to the dependence on contractors for war-zone duties as contributing to mission failures in Afghanistan in particular.

In the post-9/11 wars, U.S. corporations contracted by the Defense Department not only handled war-zone logistics like running fuel convoys and staffing chow lines but performed mission-crucial work like training and equipping Afghan security forces — security forces that collapsed last month as the Taliban swept the country.

Within weeks, and before the U.S. military had even completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban easily routed an Afghan government and military that Americans had spent 20 years and billions of dollars to stand up. President Joe Biden placed blame squarely on the Afghans themselves. “We gave them every chance,” he said last month. “What we could not provide them was the will to fight.”

But William Hartung, the author of Monday’s study by Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Center for International Policy, and others say it’s essential that Americans examine what role the reliance on private contractors played in the post-9/11 wars. In Afghanistan, that included contractors allegedly paying protection money to warlords and the Taliban themselves, and the Defense Department insisting on equipping the Afghan air force with complex Blackhawk helicopters and other aircraft that few but U.S. contractors knew how to maintain.

“If it were only the money, that would be outrageous enough,” Hartung, the director of the arms and security program at the Center for International Policy, said of instances where the Pentagon’s reliance on contractors backfired. “But the fact it undermined the mission and put troops at risk is even more outrageous.”

At the start of this year, before Biden began the final American withdrawal from Afghanistan, there were far more contractors in Afghanistan and also in Iraq than U.S. troops.

The U.S. saw about 7,000 military members die in all post-9/11 conflicts, and nearly 8,000 contractors, another Costs of War study estimates.

The Professional Services Council, an organization representing businesses contracting with the government, cited a lower figure from the U.S. Department of Labor saying nearly 4,000 federal contractors have been killed since 2001.

A spokeswoman pointed to a statement last month from the organization’s president, David J. Berteau: “For almost two decades, government contractors have provided broad and essential support for U.S. and allied forces, for the Afghan military and other elements of the Afghan government, and for humanitarian and economic development assistance.”

U.S. officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks embraced private contractors as an essential part of the U.S. military response.

It started with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton received more than $30 billion to help set up and run bases, feed troops and carry out other work in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2008, the study says. Cheney and defense contractors argued that relying on private contractors for work that service members did in previous wars would allow for a trimmer U.S. military, and be more efficient and cost effective.

By 2010, Pentagon spending had surged by more than one-third, as the U.S. fought dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a post-9/11 American, politicians vied to show support for the military in a country grown far more security conscious.

“Any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November,” the study notes Harry Stonecipher, then the vice president of Boeing, telling The Wall Street Journal the month after the attacks.

And up to a third of the Pentagon contracts went to just five weapons suppliers. Last fiscal year, for example, the money Lockheed Martin alone got from Pentagon contracts was one and a half times the entire budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the study.

The Pentagon pumped out more contracts than it could oversee, lawmakers and government special investigators said.

For example, a Florida Republican Party official made millions on what lawmakers charged were excess profits when the U.S. granted a one-of-a-kind contract for fuel convoys from Jordan to Iraq, the study notes. The electrocution of at least 18 service members by bad wiring in bases in Iraq, some of it blamed on major contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root, was another of many instances where government investigations pointed to shoddy logistics and reconstruction work.

The stunning Taliban victory last month in Afghanistan is drawing attention now to even graver consequences: the extent to which the U.S. reliance on contractors may have heightened the difficulties of the Afghan security forces.

Jodi Vittori, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel and scholar of corruption and fragile states at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was not involved in the study, points to the U.S. insistence that the Afghan air force use U.S.-made helicopters. Afghans preferred Russian helicopters, which were easier to fly, could be maintained by Afghans, and were suited to rugged Afghanistan.

When U.S. contractors pulled out with U.S. troops this spring and summer, taking their knowledge of how to maintain U.S.-provided aircraft with them, top Afghan leaders bitterly complained to the U.S. that it had deprived them of one essential advantage over the Taliban.

Hartung, like others, also points to the corruption engendered by the billions of loosely monitored dollars that the U.S. poured into Afghanistan as one central reason that Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government lost popular support, and Afghan fighters lost morale.

Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state under President Barack Obama, accused defense contractors at risk in war zones of resorting to payoffs to armed groups, making protection money one of the biggest sources of funding for the Taliban.

The United States also relied, in part, on defense contractors to carry out one of the tasks most central to its hopes of success in Afghanistan — helping to set up and train an Afghan military and other security forces that could stand up to extremist groups and to insurgents, including the Taliban.

Tellingly, Vittori said, it was Afghan commandos who had consistent training by U.S. special operations forces and others who did most of the fighting against the Taliban last month.

Relying less on private contractors, and more on the U.S. military as in past wars, might have given the U.S. better chances of victory in Afghanistan, Vittori noted. She said that would have meant U.S. presidents accepting the political risks of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and getting more body bags of U.S. troops back.

“Using contractors allowed America to fight a war that a lot of Americans forgot we were fighting,” Vittori said.

Mt. Juliet remembers 9/11

The city of Mt. Juliet held a wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Members of the Mt. Juliet’s police and fire departments, and local members of the military, laid wreaths in front of the Town Center Clock Tower at 9:30 a.m. to coincide with the collapse of the World Trade Center North Tower at 10:28 a.m. Eastern time.

The three wreaths represented the fallen police officers, firefighters, military, and civilians killed on 9/11.

Those who attended brought flowers or bouquets to lay next to the wreaths to honor the many citizens who lost their lives or were injured.

“This moment helps us remember what our freedom is and the sacrifices our heroes made,” said resident Danielle Alley, who was attending the ceremony with her husband, Travis, and her son, Treyson.

“For something of this magnitude, it has been 20 short years,” said Fire Chief Jamie Luffman. “It takes you right back to where I was 20 years ago — very afraid and very angry.”

Luffman said he turned that anger and fear into honoring those who lost their lives and who sacrificed so much in the last 20 years.

“I think it is important to know that the people who died in 9/11 are remembered,” said Travis Alley. “We should never forget why these people lost their lives on that day.”

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